There are so many amazing Pilates exercises! Pilates is a wonderful method to help address imbalance and improve posture within one’s body with time and dedication. One Leg Circle is an exercise that I particularly like, so I would like to highlight it today. I wish I could explain ALL Pilates exercises, and what they are good for, but I will settle on explaining this particular one for now!
Why do I Like One Leg Circle?
- It is a Pilates mat exercise, so you do not need any special equipment to perform it.
- There are many ways to modify this exercise to make it easier or more difficult, and it can be adapted to the needs of many people’s bodies.
- It is an excellent exercise to target the main core abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis, which is important to improve upright posture and it helps protect the lower back and pelvis.
- It also challenges the abdominal obliques, which assists the transverse abdominis in postural support.
- It strengthens many muscles within the legs
- It is a great exercise to promote body awareness and neurological/muscular control within the body
Now I would like to elaborate more on the points above.
You do not need any special equipment
Today’s life can be busy and hectic! We all know that it is HARD to squeeze in time for special exercises, especially when you must go to a gym, use special equipment, use specific props, or need to go to a specific place!
I encourage EVERYONE to take time for self-care and exercise, preferably everyday, but I know that some people do NOT carve this time out. And if a person is attempting to start an exercise regimen, sometimes the need to go to a special location or use specific equipment can be barriers to getting this task done!
One Leg Circle is a Pilates exercise that does not normally need any special equipment or place. To do it, one only needs their own body and a space large enough on the floor to lay down. One should lay on a mat surface. I do not advise this, but honestly, I often just lay down on my carpeted floor to do a few exercises.
You can modify and adapt One Leg Circle
The full version of this exercise is done with a straight leg. However, If one has muscular tightness in the muscles of the back of the leg, it may be difficult to keep the straight leg.
Luckily, the exercise is easily modified by bending one’s knee. This allows some slack in the tight muscles of the back of the leg, and will make the exercise more comfortable. The knee can be bent as much as the person needs to complete the exercise! Furthermore, the movement of the legs in this exercise can allow for “active stretching” of the legs. When performed appropriately over time, one may see progress in his/her ability to progress to a more straightened position of the legs.
Furthermore, if one is very inflexible in other places such as the front of the hip, the opposite leg resting on the mat can also be bent so the knee is flexed and the foot rests flat on the mat, while the other performs the “single leg circle” gesture.
The full exercise is great if one has really strong abdominals and does not have tightness in the back of the leg. But if a person is still building up their abdominal strength, sometimes the weight/force of a fully straight leg is too challenging to complete the exercise well. In these cases, bending the leg at the knee will also decrease the difficulty of this exercise until more abdominal strength is gained.
There is yet another modification for those who are still working on building abdominal and leg strength! When performing the One Leg Circle, the person should adjust the size of the leg “circle” in relation to their abdominals ability to stabilize their trunk, back, and pelvis. If one notices that they cannot keep these areas stable when drawing their circle with the leg, the circle should be made smaller as necessary to allow for good stability! As abdominal strength improves, the size of the circle can be increased for more challenge!
The One Leg Circle challenges the Transverse Abdominis & the Obliques
Most people do not think about this, but our legs are a large and heavy part of our bodies! Our legs consist of big muscles that weigh a lot, and they are also a long levers that challenge our core muscles. This is especially true when the legs are lifted and moving!
When the leg is lifted up towards the ceiling when we are laying on our backs, our spine and pelvis will want to flatten and move towards the mat. When the lifted leg is lowered towards the floor, the back and pelvis will want to arch and shift up towards the ceiling.
In the One Leg Circle, and with many other Pilates exercises, we must use our core abdominal muscles, such as the Transverse Abdominis and/or our Obliques to help stabilize our body’s position to prevent this movement! Our core abdominals can become very strong over time with focus, appropriate modification as necessary, and with good technique.
The Transverse Abdominis and the Obliques are very important muscles to create stability in our trunk, lower back, and pelvis and these muscles will help support an upright postural position when trained properly. The One Leg Circle is a great exercise to strengthen and improve these areas.
Lastly, when performing the One Leg Circle, the leg creates a circle in the air, versus moving straight up and down. The weight of our legs moving to the right and left while making the circle will create an additional challenge our oblique muscles! The obliques are very important muscles that work not only in flexion and side bending, but they are important muscles for rotational movement and to stabilize against rotational forces. When the leg moves into its circle, the obliques must resist the body’s tendency to rotate toward the weight of the moving leg! This can be a great challenge, considering the leg is very heavy!
The One Leg Circle Strengthens the Legs:
Not only is One Leg Circle good for strengthening the core abdominal muscles, it also strengthens the legs! Because the movement of the leg moves up, back, and to both sides, many muscles in the legs are required to work! The front (quads and hip flexors), back (the hamstrings and gluteals), inner thighs (adductors), and outer abductors are all working! This is addition to all the stabilization that is required for fluid movement of the legs!
The One Leg Circle promotes body awareness and control within the body:
The One Leg Circle may appear to be a “simple” exercise, but in order to perform this exercise well, attention and focus to its details are required. This exercise is not just about moving the leg around! The movement of the legs will challenge the body in all of the various ways I described above. The point of this exercise is to improve strength and stability within the body and the core muscles. In order for this to happen, it takes concentration and brain power!
How to perform the One Leg Circle (unmodified version):
- Lay on your back
- Engage your deep transverse abdominis abdominal muscle while keeping a neutral spine and pelvis.
- Lift one leg up to the tabletop position and then extend the leg long.
- Keep the deep transverse abdominis engaged throughout this exercise.
- Inhale as you move the leg down and inward, and then continue to move the leg out to form the first downward arc of the circle.
- Exhale as you move the leg up and out, and then continuing in to the starting position of the leg, forming the second half of the circle
- The size of the leg circle should only be as large as you can perform while keeping your body steady, keeping and neutral spine and pelvis, and preventing any rotation of the body.
- Perform 5 circles in this direction, continuing this same pattern, and then reverse the circles direction to perform 5 repetitions in the opposite direction.
- Use any of the above described modifications that you need in order to perform this exercise well.
I hope you enjoy this explanation of why I think One Leg Circle is an amazing exercise! Here’s to improving stability within our bodies with Pilates!
If you have any questions, or you feel you need help or feedback for correct technique of this exercise, find a certified Pilates instructor or a licensed healthcare practitioner in your local area that does Pilates! They can help guide you and address your specific needs and concerns!
As always, be good to yourself. Stand tall and stay strong!
Would you like to learn more about about Dr. Magda Boulay, DPT, a physical therapist and Pilates instructor and her practice, P.ilaT.es-Physical Therapy & Pilates, and how she can help you? Click on this link to sign up for a free 15-minute discovery phone call to see if P.ilaT.es is the right fit to address your needs!
PLEASE NOTE! This blog post is meant for educational and instructional purposes only. This exercise is a wellness exercise only, and it is not medical advice. This post is not a substitute for professional medical consult, evaluation, & or treatment. If you have a current injury or condition, please consult in person with a licensed medical professional before attempting or starting this, or any other exercise program.